Note: This is a guest post from Colleen Madsen of 365 Less Things.
I have never considered myself a natural organizer. But in 2007, my family moved to Australia from the USA. Because we were moving into a smaller home, I found myself needing to unclutter a large number of items. Fortunately, we were able to accomplish the task…but mostly, because I had no other choice.
Shortly after the move, a new stage of life surfaced. My husband was about to begin semi-retirement. And to prepare for our new life together, I set a personal goal to again reduce our possessions. Coincidentally, on January 3rd, a segment aired on morning television about people abandoning their New Year resolutions. Turns out, on average, most people only stick to their resolution for three days. Even though I had never been one to take on resolutions, I found great motivation in beating those narrow odds… in fact, the challenge was nearly irresistible to me
I decided at that moment to set a new resolution to minimize our possessions. I determined to remove one item each day for the next 365 days. I started with three items to make up for the missed days, and promptly began removing one thing a day for the rest of the year. I am happy to say I not only completed my resolution successfully but it was so simple and satisfying that I continued uncluttering in my slow and steady pace (an average of five items per week) for an additional two years!
Over these last three years of clearing clutter, I have removed over a thousand things from our home. Also, through the process and through my writing, I have had the opportunity to help many people realize their own goals as well. These conversations have sharpened my desire for simplicity and taught me important insight about uncluttering. I have learned that understanding just a few key principles can help anyone just learning how to declutter.
The 10 Most Important Principles I Have Learned to Help Anyone Unclutter:
1. Stop the Flow of Stuff Coming In. Uncluttering is a waste of time if you simply replace the old stuff with new. You’ll need to begin by slowing the flow of things entering your home. Determine today to buy less. Trust me, you won’t regret it. The freedom from desire to acquire is a beautiful thing.
2. Remove at Least One Item a Day. The process does not have to be a mad frenzy that disrupts your entire household. Over the years, my home has become quite minimalist by simply choosing one item a day to get rid of. This gradual process began to change the way I think about stuff. Eventually, it became a way of life rather than just a crash diet of stuff.
3. Get Rid of the Easy Stuff First. There is no need to make things difficult by trying to get rid of the hardest things first. Most likely, it will simply deter you from the task altogether. Instead, start with the easy stuff and then as you strengthen your will to reduce, the harder decisions will become easier.
4. Put a Disposal Plan in Place. Before you begin, investigate selling, recycling, donating and give away options for the items you choose to remove. The more prepared you are for the task, the simpler it will be… and the more likely you will be to follow through. Ebay, Freecycle, and our local thrift store became my favorite disposal options. However there are endless others to explore.
5. Decide to Not Keep Things out of Guilt or Obligation. Your home should only contain the things you love or use. Don’t let incorrect thinking or other people dictate what you should keep or give away. Remember, if the items are yours, it is your choice to decide what to do with them.
6. Do Not Be Afraid to Let Go. The urge to hold on to items you think you might need someday can be eliminated simply by being realistic about what need really is. Many items in our homes may be useful, but they are not particularly necessary to our happiness, well-being, or the functionality of our homes. Seek to understand the difference.
7. Gifts Do Not Have to be Material. There are so many ways to honor loved ones without giving gifts that end up as clutter. Encourage people to follow this concept when buying gifts for you. Some alternative gifts are gifts of experience or adventure, a gift of time spent together, even cash gifts are appropriate in some instances. I have two clutter-free gift guides at my blog if you are looking for ideas.
8. Do Not Over-Equip Your Home. A home does not need enough linen, crockery, cutlery, or pantry supplies to serve as a hotel. Be realistic about your true needs. In the rare event an unusually large number of guests arrive on your doorstep, you can always borrow from friends, family or neighbors.
9. Do Not Throw Out Things that are not Yours Without the Owner’s Permission. Everyone should have a choice about their own belongings, even small children. Honor them by allowing them to choose. You can encourage hoarding tendencies in others by ripping things away from them before they are ready to let go.
10. Do Not Waste Your Life on Clutter. Every item you own takes time out of your life: time to manage it, clean it, repair it, and maintain it; time to choose between objects of a similar category; time spent shopping for it… and that doesn’t even mention the time spent earning the money to pay for it in the first space. Decide to sacrifice less of your precious life on the pursuit and ownership of stuff.
These ten principles have kept me resolute for the past three years. I had no idea when I began this mission how much stuff I would relinquish over the next three years. What I originally thought was going to be an arduous task quickly became a way of life… so much so, we have just put a deposit on a beautiful, even smaller, apartment with fabulous views of our coastal city, a swimming pool, and gym all within walking distance of everything we want. Semi-retirement is becoming a beautiful thing. Uncluttering made it possible.
Colleen Madsen blogs regularly at 365 Less Things where she inspires others to reduce their stuff one day at a time. You can find her on Twitter.
The Declutter Your Home Checklist
I know this may be an unpopular view, but I do declutter items that belong to other people in the house. Not often, not regularly… BUT if you are going to do it, make sure they won’t discover it by bagging it carefully so they don’t see it. Example: I was going through a paper bag of old papers in the attic. My husband, just on principle, wanted me to keep old credit cards that were never used, and literally had expiration dates in the ’80s. After he left the room, I said, no way. I cut them up (probably not necessary…) and tied them in an opaque plastic bag and nestled them in the outside trash. Some of these hoarding situations we see on TV would not exist if other family members put their foot down and put a stop to the nonsense before it gets out of control, unsafe, and unsanitary.
Good for you.
Nancy Plummer says
I have been downsizing since I retired and am on the last part LOL…..so difficult as most of what I have left are antiques and pictures. One thing that has helped me is giving my family items that they want….admire that picture? Take it with you!!! I am currently sorting out stuff for gifts for this year’s holidays. If they don’t get an antique they get food!!! Just wish I had more relatives to give stuff to LOL
Cameron Bethuram says
Great ideas and great work!! :)
Thank you do much for sll the helpful ideas. I am struggling daily with my husband’s clutter. I don’t know how to begin the process and he just ignores it. How can I help him to see how it is effecting our whole family? I don’t need much. I model putting things away, giving away clothing regularly, putting the kids things and my things away…but how can we start this project when he is not on board.
Pamela Brady says
What to do about items the I inherited but my children don’t want. I have a spinning wheel that belonged to my 2nd great grandmother as well as other “treasures”. I’m 62 and know that now is the time to begin the process of pairing down so my children won’t have a huge household to deal with when I’m gone. Any ideas?
The things handed down by family members would be a treasure to some of your cousins who are truly interested in family history or who does not have any of the heirlooms. Pass the word around to them you are getting rid of family treasures.
Colleen Madsen says
I agree with what Joshua has to say about this. In fact I am sure that I would have at least one post about exactly that. I also have had many a comment from readers who had been left the arduous and emotional task of having to declutter property of lost loved ones. A task that these people vowed they would never visit upon their loved ones in the future.
About that spinning wheel, I am sure there is a spinning group that would gladly find a new owner for that wheel should no family member want it. I know this because spinning is a hobby of mine and I belong to just such a group.
Tina B says
There are people out there who would treasure your spinning wheel and other antiques. I have a friend who belongs to a spinning group in PEI. I’d suggest writing a brief note telling the story of your spinning wheel and then see if there is someone local who would like to use it. Affix the note to it in a ziplock bag and gift it to someone outside the family who will actually use it and love it. ❤️
Thank you for this post!!
I’m retiring in about two years, and have tried to grasp the idea of how to declutter, downzice, minimizing, and simplify my home and my life.
To inspire myself, I have red quite some post on this.
This actual post is one of the best I have red.
I live in Scandinavia, with cold and wet winters, and sometimes warm summers. I think my wardrobe is a bit more than I need right now, but facing a soon retirement, I’ve decided I will not just through out clothes, but wait and see.
I’ve started to get rid of books and plant-things I do not need or like.
I’ll keep some toys for my grandchildren to play with when they come visit after the corona-threat.
I’ve talked with my husband about our kitchen, if there are things we don’t need.
It will be a long-term-walk to simplify to a level I think is reasonable.
And I will not let this be a new religion for me, just a guide to help me live simple
Colleen Madsen says
It sound like you are making some good decisions there. You may even find you enjoy the process, I certainly did.